A coffee machine and baskets of snacks guarded by a plush toy made by his former student — this is Ric McClendon’s “little coffee bar station,” funded out of his own pocket. Sitting by the table, the new dean of students gets to hear students’ stories and experiences at Stony Brook, good and bad.
McClendon was appointed as assistant vice president and the dean of students on May 12, according to an announcement from the Division of Student Affairs.
“That’s just my way of supporting students,” McClendon said. “My little token of saying, ‘come and chat.’”
A veteran in higher education leadership, McClendon came on board in July as Stony Brook got ready for its first in-person semester since the beginning of the pandemic. Since assuming his position, the new dean has already participated in several campus activities to connect with the students.
“It was just fun just to connect and shake students’ hands and just say hello, and meet and greet them,” McClendon said.
During the involvement fair last Friday, McClendon was spotted outside Shop Red West, inviting students for pictures in front of an inflatable chair. Not only did he take photos with students, but he published them on the Dean of Students Instagram account, which he personally manages to maintain an online presence and connect with students over social media platforms.
Besides joining the “fun” parts like Welcome Week, Red Day and new students’ orientations, the dean also talks with student bodies to discuss serious matters.
“There’s nothing formal that we’ve set thus far … but Dean McClendon was definitely interested in [looking into discussing the renaming of Sanger College],” said Sowad Ocean Karim, the vice president of communications at the Stony Brook Undergraduate Student Government, referring to a petition initiated last year.
Supported by a team of about 30 professionals from departments like the LGBTQ* Services and the UNITY Culture Center, McClendon will be working closely with various student organizations and offices to connect students with campus resources and address their needs.
Before leading student engagement in higher education institutions such as Western Carolina University, Colgate University and Shenandoah University, McClendon studied and worked in the hotel management industry for 10 years. Creating experiences, he said, is key in both sectors where people are looking to make connections.
“You want to find community, you want to build community, you want to create an experience for yourself,” he said. “And what better way to do that than through student life?”
Students are hopeful that the new dean will bridge the communication gap long existing between students and the administration.
“There is a lot of disconnect between the student body and the administration in terms of communications,” Karim said. “And it shouldn’t be really hard for faculty and staff to come to students and talk to them directly.”
Manjot Singh, the president of the Stony Brook Undergraduate Student Government, said that McClendon could be “a true bridge to the administration side of the university and to the student side.”
Rebuilding and reconnecting the Stony Brook community will take more than just a few meetings and proposals. To advocate for students — or in McClendon’s words, “to put students in the driver’s seat” — means to stand alongside them and bring them into the process of creating a unique college experience.
“I think a great thing about [Dean McClendon] is that when he interacts with us, he makes it seem like he himself is a student,” Singh said. “He really integrates himself into the student body.”
As Stony Brook re-emerges from COVID-19 pandemic, McClendon sees opportunities to engage students in a hybrid approach to create a sense of belonging.
“For folks who are commuter students or transfer students, how do we still do virtual programs that encourage you to invite everybody to the table, and also create those in person moments and opportunities,” McClendon said. “So I think we all learned a lot on how we engage students.”